Benny Cassette: Hip Hop / Alternative / Experimental
Inspiring, thought-provoking, passionate and hopeful are just a few words one may use to describe an artist with as much talent as Benny Cassette, a rising but already very accomplished hip-hop artist. His music is in no way the shallow, morally unconscious garbage that fills a lot of the airwaves. He is a refreshing and pleasant break from the norm. A mere conversation with him, in fact, bears witness to his overwhelmingly kind-hearted and upbeat personality.
In regards to his music, he writes all of it himself: "My music is like my diary," he said. Cassette recently finished a song called, "Working Man's Hero," featuring Mos Def and Willie Nelson. His music has also been featured on two of the "Fast and the Furious" movies as well shows like "Nip/Tuck" and "The O.C." and he co-wrote one of Eve's song which featured singer Tara Ellis and played on the premiere of Entourage. His debut album will be released next year by the record label Crimson World and distributed by Universal Music Group. But so far, his best experience was his performance in Africa on New Year's Eve.
Cassette's inspiration derives from an eclectic mix of music including artists like Willie Nelson, Miles Davis, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Beastie Boys, Outkast, and Will.i.am. "I love great songs," he says, smiling.
Cassette says that he officially became interested in becoming a musician in high school. There, he became part of a youth-performance group. "They did drama, they sang, but it was kind of corny," he admits. That is when he decided he could be the rapper of the group" "Every summer we'd go across country and perform." He said they went to various places, and sometimes prisons where. "I learned real quick how to cover stuff up because if you mess up there, on stage, you get boo'd."
He then explained some of the difficulties of becoming a musician. "I had no clue... I didn't grow up around industry parents. I grew up in Echo Park." So for Cassette, "it was a matter of survival." The Echo Park Cassette grew up in is not the one that people see today, "it was once a breeding ground for gangbanging and drug dealers." Perhaps this is why his music is so honest and full of content. Cassette also tries to stay close to his roots and visit his neighborhood when he can. He explained that "when you don't visit your hood, you end up just making art in a bubble." But as important as it is to stay in touch with your roots, he advises not to get caught up in them.
As of now, his motto parallels a song he just finished called, "The Only Way is up." The song arose from a phone call he got from a close friend who had just lost his girlfriend, didn't have any money, and had generally fallen into hard times. Cassette, to his friend's surprise, responded with congratulations rather than sympathy: "That's great," he said, "[because] when everything has all fallen down, you can only go up."
After the phone call, Cassette realized it would be a good song and started putting it together. "The best songs are the ones that come out in 10-15 minutes," he said. He adds that when it doesn't come to you like that, "sometimes you've got to fight to find the inspiration." He knows some artists who relax for several days, waiting to be inspired so that their work doesn't come out forced. That's fine for some, but Cassette explains that "you gotta get in there," instead of idly waiting around. For inspiration, he looks to the youth. "The biggest inspiration comes from when I'm in front of kids...you get up in front of some kids that have no connection to Hollywood and they're moved... there's nothing greater than that feeling." For youth who may also strive to succeed as an artist, he adds, "not everything is just overnight." "Everyone gives that same answer: don't give up on your dreams. But it's kind of true." "People hear about an artist and assume they just blew up over night," he said, laughing. "They don't know about the five years there was Top Ramen... and then the other five years there was Hungry- Man. Most people that don't make it give up too quick." Cassette feels that drive and perseverance are never easy but if it's your passion you just cant give up. "People have to really work to get everyone behind them. You're going to hear a thousand 'no's,' but the one 'yes' makes it totally worth it."
Cassette's struggles were well worth it, his accomplishments are reflected through the peaceful appearance of his home. The serene house, elaborately designed by his architect father, was filled with the subtle scent of quietly flickering candles sitting on a shelf near his computer. The studio is equipped with a great stereo system where he played some of his soulful yet upbeat songs. Cassette himself remained upbeat throughout the interview, showing an obvious passion for his music. As a producer, he says that, "It's seldom to meet someone and know you're going to work with them right away." The importance of establishing a good relationship between artist and producer cannot be overlooked, he emphasized. The new way of doing music is about owning everything yourself, from the song to the company that produces it. Cassette's label currently has three artists singed to it: Tara Ellis, Andy Grammer and Quest. By doing this he can focus on each one individually and make sure they are given the amount of time they need to rise to fame.
In the midst of his work, Cassette places a large weight on giving back to the community. He often holds community events at his house, during which "kids come over... learn virtues, then write music about it." Every Sunday at the Baha'i Center on 5755 Rodeo Road in Los Angeles, he hosts an "open mic" for which poets and artists of any background are welcome to speak and perform. "You gotta give to get," says Cassette.
Cassette strongly believes that, "everybody has a blueprint." "Even the homeless guy strung out on the street... he might not be fulfilling it, but it's in there." And Cassette feels that music is his blueprint: "Even if I couldn't make any more money off my music, which I hope is not the case," he adds with a smile, "it's cool, the world still may get something out of what I do so I would keep doing it."
In reference to contemporary youth, Cassette explained that "the biggest problem our generation has right now is being lost." He said this is one of the reasons why, "the [Barack] Obama thing is so phenomenal." Since Obama is so relatable, he explained, it makes us all feel like we have a little bit more control. "That's what most people are lacking in their lives: control." For Cassette, taking ownership of his life was not easy; though his dedication to music rather than college disappointed his family, he remained steadfast in his chosen path. With the interview wrapping up, Cassette returned to what he does best, his fingers hitting the keys of his keyboard as he was off again, making beautiful music and inspiring lyrics. Information and samples of Cassette's music can be found on both Facebook and MySpace, until his new album's release next year.